The papers of Florence Mary Fitch document Fitchs student years in Oberlin, Munich, and Berlin (1892-97; 1900-03) and her subsequent career at Oberlin College as a biblical scholar and writer of childrens books. They also contain materials relating to three preceding generations of the Fitch family (1807-1936). Virtually no record exists in these papers of Florence Fitchs tenure as Dean of Women at Oberlin (1904-20). The records of the Office of the Dean of Students (Record Group 12) commence in 1928, eight years after Fitch resigned that position.
The Fitch papers are arranged into six records series: I. Fitch Family Correspondence; II. Fitch Family Miscellany; III. Correspondence of Florence Fitch; IV. Diaries and Account Books of Florence Fitch and Anna Haskell Fitch; V. Writings; and VI. Photographs and Postcards.
Fitch family correspondence dates from an 1807-08 exchange between Spencer Coleman (B.A. 1805, Williams College) and Hannah McKeown Coleman, Frances Fitchs paternal great-grandparents. The Colemans daughter, Eliza Hudson Coleman, was the wife of Martin Luther Fitch (1815-1893), Florences paternal grandfather, a Staff Sergeant in the Civil War. This collection contains forty letters (1861-64) from Martin L. Fitch to his family written while serving with Company C of the First Regiment of the Ohio Light Artillery. A calendar of these letters is located in the case file of this collection. Also present in Series I is courtship correspondence (1870-72) between Frances father and mother, the Rev. Frank S. Fitch (1846-1918) and Anna Haskell Fitch (1847-1936), as well as a small group of letters from the Rev. Fitch to his wife and children written during his trips to Europe (1888), the Holy Land, Egypt, Greece, and Turkey (1893), and to Edinburgh (1908). Items of a miscellaneous nature relating to Frances Fitchs parents are housed in Series II, and family photographs are housed in Series VI.
The outgoing correspondence of Florence Fitch (1881-1957, n.d.) largely constitutes letters written home to her parents (Dear ones at Home). These letters (returned to her upon the death of Florences parents) provide a nearly unbroken account of her activities over a seventy-year period. The bulk of her letters are concentrated between 1892 and 1917. Early letters (1881-1892, n.d.), again written to her parents, describe her schoolwork and church activities and hint at a career as a foreign missionary. Letters dating from Fitchs undergraduate days at Oberlin College (1892-93; 1894-97) pertain to her studies, social events, and Y.W.C.A. work. There are no letters for the year 1893-94 or for the years 1897-1900, as these were periods of residence with her family in Buffalo, New York. Later letters, 1903-1916, report on campus-wide activities, events, and faculty and friends.
Florence Fitchs doctoral work at the Universities of Berlin and Munich is documented in weekly correspondence written between 1900 and 1903 to her family in Buffalo. Letters are richly detailed and offer an excellent resource for examining the experience of one of the first women to study philosophical theology in the German universities. Letters (July-October 1900) describe Fitchs travels in England and Germany prior to settling in Berlin, her living quarters in Berlin, the library, other women students, other foreigners studying or living in Berlin, social gatherings, her impressions of her professors and various cultural and bureaucratic obstacles to be faced, Prof. Harnacks lectures on the New Testament, her study of the works of philosopher William James (1842-1910), and her successful completion of her thesis and oral examinations in July 1903.
Florence Fitch traveled widely during her student days and later as a research scholar. Diaries (1901-02) kept by Florence and her mother, housed in Series IV, describe their travels together in England, France, Italy, and Germany during Florences residence abroad. Subsequent travels to China and Japan (1915), to Israel, Syria, Greece, and Egypt (1926-27), and to India, Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, China, Japan, and Hawaii (1936-37) are recorded in correspondence and depicted in hundreds of labeled photographs and postcards, housed in Series VI. Of special interest are her ms. notes of an interview she conducted in December 1936 with Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948) in Benares, India, together with a letter to her sister, Anna (1873-1946), describing her impressions of Gandhi. Also included are notes for an interview with Miss Margaret Slade, the British follower of Gandhi. A published account of the Gandhi interview appears in the Oberlin Alumni Magazine for December 1937.
Well documented in this collection is the immense popularity of the books Florence Fitch wrote to introduce children to world religions. Files include manuscript typescripts of A Book About God (1950-51), A Little Boy Learns About God (1953), and Daughter of Abd Salam (1931-32); correspondence received from readers, and press reviews of the books. The bulk of incoming correspondence relates to the highly acclaimed One God: the Ways We Worship Him (1944). Other writings of Florence Fitch, housed in Series V, include drafts of articles, research notes, outlines for two Oberlin courses, Introduction to the Study of the Bible and Early Christian Life and Thought, pamphlets, scripts for radio broadcasts, and addresses on various subjects, including her travels to India, Japan, China, and to Oberlins Shansi mission at Taigu. Ms. talks given by Dean Fitch to entering Oberlin College freshmen (1904-14) offer insight into Fitchs views on relations between men and women students. Filed with these are photocopies (1914-18) of Oberlin News Tribune articles on the debate over the Womens Rules, which occurred during Fitchs tenure.